If no one understands your data, can it really make an impact?

As data visualization has become an increasingly important part of traditional and digital public relations campaigns, there has been a corresponding upswing in the use of infographics by communications professionals.

Infographics are visual representations of data intended to simplify and creatively communicate complex information. Infographics have become ubiquitous online over the last few years as organizations and brands have increasingly employed these visual tools for engagement and communication with target audiences.

But you don't have to be a designer to create an infographic for your company or cause. Below are five recommendations for creating an effective infographic as well as tips and tools for creating your own: 

1. Make sure your visuals are intrinsically tied to your data. Don't just throw in a clip art JPEG to take up space. Images should tell the story of your statistics. The below infographic details the relative success of social media managers capitalizing on the Harlem Shake viral video trend and is a great example of graphics aligning with information (via Mashable): 

The Harlem Shake infographic successfully uses graphics that contain little excess information. The number of YouTube views of each Harlem Shake video is represented by large band at the top and the thickness of each band corresponds to the total number of views. Viewers of the graphic have an opportunity to visualize the data the author intended to communicate rather than just seeing a list of numbers.

By contrast, this infographic (found on GOOD) places the statistics and text on top of an interesting background, but does not integrate graphics into the data.

2. Leave out the traditional key. Your infographic should be self-explanatory and simple enough to read without a separate legend explaining what each color and line represents. Descriptors should be embedded in the design so viewers can quickly understand what the images are intended to communicate. Below is a good example of this that we found on Visual.ly, a service that gives people tools and examples to create infographics:

3. Don't clutter your design. Although it can be exciting to see your data come to life in images, be sure to clearly separate the information and keep it relevant to your overall point. The below infographic from Martin Cajzer, a UK designer, illustrates a great deal of data, but the information is displayed in a crisp design that still allows viewers to understand the "story" being communicated – the life and career of a designer:   

4. Sign it. As much as infographics are vehicles for communicating data, they are also very effective marketing tools. If you create an infographic for your company or organization, be sure to include its logo. And if the project is for your personal use, add your name and even links to your public Twitter account and/or website.

5. Cite your data and be accurate. Remember, this is an infographic. Above all, the data need to be correct. Be sure the information you're using is up-to-date and not misleading. Sources are most often cited at the bottom of the graphic, but you can feel free to get creative and include them elsewhere – just be sure to include them.

Next step: Time to create. Experienced designers often use Adobe's Photoshop or Illustrator to create infographics. These tools, however, often come with a hefty learning curve and a substantial price tag. Instead, there are more common computer programs, like PowerPoint, and other online resources available to help you create your own infographic.

Here's a tutorial from Hubspot on creating an infographic in PowerPoint, which also includes templates that you can use and tailor to your needs. Piktochart offers a few free templates to get you started, while Visual.ly has the capability of taking data, like Twitter stats or Google Analytics, and turning them into well-designed infographics.

Now that you’ve got our top five tips for creating an effective infographic and a few resources on how to do it, Rational encourages you to go get inspired! Creative Bloq recently pulled together 60 "brilliant" infographics that we think are aesthetically pleasing while also serving as effective communication tools. 

--Suzy Smith